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Evanston Art Center exhibit ‘HIVE Expanded’ reflects on man-made nature

Photo courtesy of Susan Beiner

Susan Beiner’s “HIVE Expanded” exhibit opened Oct. 1 at the Evanston Art Center, connecting ceramics and sketches of flora into geometric patterns.

The Evanston Art Centers newest exhibit, “HIVE Expanded,” uses ceramics and sketches to draw attention to the impact a small change can have on the environment.

The exhibit, originally curated in 2017 by artist Susan Beiner, is open from Oct. 1 to Nov 6. It was originally scheduled for April 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The wall-length display features both two- and three-dimensional representations of plant life based on a chance encounter with bees several years ago. Beiner said bees had infiltrated a construction area next to her house, so she called a bee farmer who helped her suit up to smoke out and safely relocate the bees.

Beiner said she had taken note of the plants in the bees’ environment and how those plants changed once the bees were removed. The exhibit aims to document these changes and show the need for bees in the ecosystem, she said.

“I’ve learned all of these things: the bees and how to treat them, what they do, how they pollinate and how that works for plants and how things grow. It’s incredible,” said Beiner.

“HIVE Expanded” features layered cutout sketches and five large ceramic encrustations of various flora. These are mounted onto large hexagonal panels to mirror the shapes of flora and bee colonies, said Beiner. Several small ceramic sprouts and prominent graphite lines connect the hexagonal pieces.

The graphite lines are meant to lead viewers through the story of the piece, Beiner said.

“They don’t read the object. They look at it,” she said. “I’m drawing these lines on the wall, and I think that feels diagrammatic in a way, and so I’m hoping that that pulls you through and maybe helps you read.”

Beiner described her work as a type of translation, looking to reshape viewers’ understandings of objects that may seem simple upon first glance, such as plants. She built the 16-inch encrustations from the inside out, layering the clay to replicate a plant’s natural growth and forming hundreds of ceramic spikes for the tiny leaves.

Audrey Avril, the manager of exhibits at Evanston Art Center, described Beiner’s ceramic work as “unconventional,” with the potential to change viewers’ understandings of the medium.

“She works to find that space where she can manufacture the authenticity you might find in nature, exploring what elements of nature make organisms natural,” Avril said. “All of these little forms that seem so natural and organic are still, at their core, pottery and illusion.”

Using both ceramics and sketches allows Beiner to experiment with different representations of the same object and to play with space in the exhibit, she said. Some sketches include crystalline geometric shapes on the sides of the panel, intended to tighten and control the space on the panel. The mix of ceramics and sketches mounted on the wall also introduce dimension to the exhibit, pulling the viewer back and forth in the space.

“Standing back, it just looks like one complete, full piece, but she has these clay pieces and drawings and these wood cutouts and lines and connections,” Lincolnwood resident Annie Abdelnour said after the opening reception on Oct. 1.

“HIVE Expanded” has been exhibited multiple times and has undergone several changes since it was first curated in 2017, said Beiner. The first version encompassed four walls, adding a cyclical element to the installation.

After attending the reception, Lincolnwood resident and sculptor Nolan Baumgartner said the exhibit inspired him to get back in the studio.

“I’ve been thinking about trying to figure out how to get the things that I make to work together as more of a composition than individual pieces,” Baumgartner said. “Seeing something on this scale is always inspiring to actually go out and do something.”

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